Sunday, June 7, 2015

Tomato Leaf Pesto

Tomato season is in full swing here in Austin, and I’ve been bringing home as many as the two of us can consume. A tomato is possibly the easiest type of produce to put to good use in the kitchen, but I had no idea that the leaves of the plant can be used as well. I received a review copy of the new book The CSA Cookbook by Linda Ly and learned about eating tomato leaves and a few other ways to use even more of edible plants. The goal of the book is to share ideas for using every bit of what shows up in a CSA box including the less popular vegetables. But, it’s also a great reference for gardeners who have entire plants at their disposal. I’ve eaten sweet potato leaves when they show up in our CSA in late summer, but I didn’t know leaves from pepper plants are edible too. And, entire squash plants are edible from the vines and leaves to the blossoms, vegetables, and seeds. Now I want to grow my own so I can make Sicilian Squash Shoot Soup. There’s even a recipe for Quick-Pickled Sweet ‘N’ Spicy Radish Pods which appear after the plant flowers. Not all the recipes are for such unusual parts of the plant though. There’s also Rosemary-Roasted Carrots, Carrot Top Salsa, Green Onion Pancakes, and Fennel Apple and Celery Slaw to name a few. But, let’s get back to those tomato leaves. I’ve always loved the smell of tomato vines and leaves, and I couldn’t wait to try a pesto made with the leaves. We all know that I can’t grow tomatoes myself to save my life, but Springdale Farm was kind enough to let me purchase some leaves from their plants. They suggested Brandywine tomato leaves since they have a nice-looking shape, and I was thrilled to take them home and turn them into pesto. I also took home several of their tomatoes to serve with the pesto. 

I am capable of growing some herbs, and I do have a few pots with basil plants. This pesto is made with a mix of basil leaves and tomato leaves. The rest of the ingredients are the usual suspects in traditional pesto. Pine nuts were toasted, Parmigiano Reggiano was grated, garlic was peeled and chopped, and extra virgin olive oil was ready to be added. Everything was pulsed in a food processor. I liked the suggestion in the book of using this pesto in a take on Caprese salad. I sliced some fresh mozzarella from Full Quiver, topped the cheese with fresh tomatoes, and spooned the pesto over them. I had a few extra tomato leaves to use to decorate the platter. 

As usual, Kurt was suspicious of this new spin on a classic recipe. He wasn’t sure the tomato leaves would be a welcome ingredient in pesto. All concerns were forgotten when he tasted it though. The flavor is like a traditional basil pesto with an added, herby dimension. It was fresh and delicious as part of a Caprese. If I ever attempt to grow tomatoes again, now I know I can at least eat the leaves if no fruit appears on the vines. And, I have lots of new ideas for other plants too. 

Speaking of tomato season, I've been helping plan a Tomato Dinner to be held at Springdale Farm this Tuesday, June 9. The dinner will benefit Springdale Center for Urban Agriculture and Slow Food Austin. Tickets are still available. The participating chefs are planning some incredible dishes for this feast on the farm.

Tomato Leaf Pesto 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The CSA Cookbook

When I think of summer bounties, I think of basil and tomatoes—the poster children for the season. Something about the sweet, savory, and ever-so-slightly peppery aroma of basil makes a fruity, subtly smoky, vine-ripened tomato sing. When you combine both of their characteristics into an otherwise traditional pesto, the result is a sauce that is unmistakably basil-scented, but with a note of warm and earthy tomato leaf. 

Slather it on a thick slice of mozzarella for a different take on the classic Caprese salad. 

Makes 1 Cup 
2 cups packed fresh basil 
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
1/3 cup packed tomato leaves 
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts 
3 garlic cloves 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil 

Add the basil, Parmesan, tomato leaves, pine nuts, garlic, and salt to a food processor and pulse until crumbly, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Continue pulsing and add the oil in a steady stream until well blended. Use 1/4 cup oil for a thicker paste or up to 1/2 cup oil for a thinner sauce.

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15 comments:

  1. Using tomato leaves for pesto is new to me! Have never seen that before, I definitely can't imagine the taste :)

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  2. I didn't know tomato leaves could be eaten (I thought that they were poisonous like the rest of the plant...)! Very original.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  3. Ain't tomato leaves poisonous? The pesto looks very tasty!

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  4. Some members of the nightshade plant family are toxic, and others aren't. Here's more info about eating tomato leaves: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/08/tomato-leaves-the-toxic-myth/

    Also, I believe you want to avoid potato plant leaves. But, sweet potatoes are not nightshades, and their leaves are safe to eat.

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  5. What a robust pesto! Tomato leaves always stain my hands and clothes, so I try my best to ignore them, favoring the plump ripe fruit. I must make this recipe and change my thoughts to using the more of the plant!

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  6. it just so happens that we have oodles of tomato plants and not many tomatoes. i LOVE the idea of using the leaves--this is brilliant!

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  7. I've grown tomatoes but never eaten the leaves. I didn't know you could! That's a lovely looking pesto and I'd love to try it with the addition of tomato leaves xx

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  8. Very intrigued by this pesto! We planted some tomatoes this year, and if we are lucky (that is, if the plants survive despise of us), I intend to try it.... I am sure it will be amazing!

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  9. I love alternative pestos, and this one sounds like a real winner. I'll have to try it!

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  10. Love tomato season! Ours aren't ready yet, but soon we should be enjoying them. Assuming the squirrels leave us any. ;-) Love this pesto! Thanks.

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  11. Hi Lisa, thank you for your review of my book! I love that you tackled one of the more unusual recipes and ended up enjoying it! Tomato leaves are such a great seasoning for tomato-based dishes (have you tried it in tomato sauce or tomato soup yet?) and I hope more people will give it a go. Here's to many more delicious meals in your kitchen this summer!

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  12. I simply love tomatoes! Thank you so much for this amazing tomato leaf pesto recipe! Looks gorgeous!

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  13. Never knew that either...although was surprised at how good radish leaves are, so why not? Nice bright pesto, Lisa.

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  14. Wow, Lisa, how intriguing! And adding the tomato leaves to pesto sounds like a logical place to start. Caprese salads are one of my favorite summer treats---perfect way to showcase this multifaceted pesto :)

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  15. Never knew you could eat tomato leaves, and I was looking at others comments saying you can eat sweet potato leaves and radish leaves I really need to get this so I can find more interesting editable plant leaves and plants :-)

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